To close out this crazy and unprecedented year, I wanted to take some time to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published, unagented authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Author Kailei Pew!
Welcome and thanks for joining me on the blog, Kailei! I'm so excited to have you here and to learn more about your story and the stories you create for kids. You are unique to the #RisingStarsinKidLit series because before I got to post this, you became agented! Woohooo and BIG congrats! It's crazy how we can be in the querying trenches for weeks, months, and years and then all that can shift so quickly with the right match and the right story! Inspiration! You can read more about Kailei's rise from the query trenches HERE! Let's get to it, Kailei!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
AD: Ha! I love all these unexpected answers along with the reminder to have FUN! With all the ups and downs of this creative journey, we can sometimes lose sight of the fun factor but if we are not having fun, we are doing something wrong.
AD: Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
KP: I think there’s always been a part of me who has wanted to write picture books. I’ve always loved them! I request 40 picture books from our library every week because we seriously devour them. I decided in December of 2018 that I officially wanted to be a children’s author. I wrote my first (super bad) picture book and queried it in January 2019. *Face Palm* But one agent was kind enough to respond to my query, even said he loved the idea but it just wasn’t right for the modern picture book market. I decided if I was going to be serious about this writing thing that I needed to invest. So I took some courses, read some books on craft, joined an awesome critique group, and was lucky enough to land a mentorship in March 2019. That experience was super important for me to see that someone else believed in my voice and my writing. Bonnie Swanson taught me a lot about showing, not telling and really helped me to develop my voice. It also connected me with my second amazing critique group, which is when things really picked up for me. This second critique group swaps weekly, which keeps me writing and improving my craft. I jumped back into the query trenches with both feet in October 2019 and never looked back. I was lucky enough to sign with my amazing agent, Emily Forney at Bookends just a couple of weeks ago.
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
KP: It’s funny, because two of my high school English teachers encouraged me to become a writer, but for some reason back then I just wasn’t interested. I loved to write, and I was one of those weird people who loved writing papers, but I also really loved music. I studied Music Therapy for 3 years at Arizona State and absolutely loved it. I took two years off of school and moved to Argentina. It was an incredible experience and I loved my time in South America. When I returned home, Music Therapy just didn’t feel right anymore. I had one year of scholarship left, so I explored my options of what degrees I could finish in that amount of time based on the credits I had already completed. I settled on Human Development and after graduation, I worked as a mentor to at-risk youth, helping them meet the necessary goals to be able to return home after some time in juvenile detention. Because funds were low, I was also asked to serve as the reading teacher. I was hooked and reminded just how much I loved to read and write. When I had my first baby, I knew that I wanted to take some time away from my professional career to be home with my kids. It was a magical time and I especially loved reading picture books to my children. By the time she was 3 years old, my oldest could sit on my lap for over an hour reading picture book after picture book. (Which is why we get so many books from the library each week). That made me want to write my own books. After a few years of just thinking about it/dreaming about it, I decided to get serious about writing and work towards becoming a published author.
AD: Interesting your teachers were encouraging you to become a writer but you weren't interested at that time. I teach high schoolers and whenever they are struggling to decide on what to do when they graduate I always ask them, "Well, what did you like to do when you were little?" I truly believe that the things we enjoy when we are young don't go away as well get older but instead we seem to lose sight of them and sometimes, we just need some help finding our way back.
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
KP: Finding an agent was definitely the biggest challenge so far. While I know not everyone takes the agent path and some people find amazing success in submitting on their own, I knew that I wanted an agent. My time in the query trenches was full of ups and downs and was definitely an emotional roller coaster. I think the hardest part of my time querying was when I’d get a “close call.” I had a number of times where agents requested more, but ultimately decided that they didn’t quite connect with the additional pieces as much as they would have liked. And when different agents liked different manuscripts, it was tricky and showed just how subjective it all is. But I reminded myself that my work was valuable and that the rejections weren’t a reflection on me, or even my work. A “no” was really just a “not yet,” and I sent another query for every rejection. Writing new manuscripts also made a huge difference to keep my mind off of the rejections and keep me excited about my work. Once I wrote the right manuscript, it was actually a pretty fast turnaround in finding an agent. It took time and patience, but when the time was right and everything lined up, things suddenly fell into place.
I think it’s also important to remember that these challenges will always be followed by other challenges. I thought “if I can just get an agent, everything will be so much better.” And while that’s partially true, because Emily is a rock star and I love working with her, there are more challenges to come. Waiting to hear back about submissions, finding the right editor, getting more rejections. The key is to just keep moving forward!
AD: Right on! Keep moving forward! One step at a time!!
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing journey?
KP: I really love a nonfiction project that I worked on for almost a year. It was a labor of love, but it has been an absolute joy to write and I really hope I can get these book babies out into the world someday.
AD: Ooo! I hope to read it one day! I'm a nonfiction nerd :)
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?
KP: I am always open to revisions. I know that others will have great ideas, and I look forward to the revision process. I think it’s important to listen to ideas and suggestions from others, decide what resonates with you, and then make the changes that feel right.
AD: Yes, this idea is so important to remember. If we are getting critiques, that means we are getting feedback and many times the feedback can vary. It's not realistic to think we should or could incorporate all of it. Digesting and thinking about what resonates is important as you mentioned. I also like to think if I hear the same feedback several times from others, it may be something I want to consider digging deeper into.
AD: What inspires your work?
KP: Most often, my kids. I write the books that I want them to read. The books that will help them know that they can be and do anything they set their minds to. Even my silliest books have some kind of underlying element that anything is possible.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
KP: Haha! I laugh because my process is a bit of a hot mess… I jot notes down on scraps of paper if I’m in the middle of momming and an idea strikes. I have notebooks with really random notes, documents on my MacBook with long lists of potential titles, lots of Notes on my phone with random phrases that come to find, etc. When I’m ready to actually sit down and write, I have two different methods depending on my mood. Sometimes I just sit down and write and write and write without any worry for where the story is going. Other times, I get my doodle notebook out and get an idea down for the plot, characters, phrases I might want to use, words that would be fun for the story, etc. and plan things out a little better. My stories tend to be better when I have some kind of plan, but I just can’t help being a Panster every now and again.
In the nonfiction realm, my method is completely different. I do a ton of research and jot lots of notes before writing any of the story. I want to really know my subject before I try to write it. I find that my nonfiction books write themselves really quickly when I’m actually ready to write the manuscript, because I’ve done so much research and prep work leading up to the actual drafting. I will literally research for months before writing any of the manuscript.
AD: Fascinating how different the process can be depending on the type of story you are writing. I, too, love nonfiction and LOVE doing the research to learn more about the topic. You never know what little golden nugget you might find that will help guide or focus your vision for the story.
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?
KP: Hands down, my critique groups. They have been amazing to see things that I don’t see. People who aren’t emotionally attached to your work can point things out that you aren’t willing to see. And it’s essential to have people in your corner on this writing journey. Author life could be very lonely if we let it. But having a team of people who believe in you and are cheering you on, while you also cheer them on, is huge.
AD: Yes! CP's rock!
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
KP: Don’t give up! You never know when your “yes” will come. After 20 months of rejections, I suddenly had two offers of representation within 24 hours after querying a certain story. It was a whirlwind of emotion going from so many no’s over so much time to that sudden “yes!” Never stop trying. Never stop writing new stories. Never stop putting your work out there. Never stop believing that your “yes” will come. Because it will. I fully believe that if we don’t give up, every single one of us will make it.
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
KP: I would love to connect!
You can find me on:
I would especially love to share my new Blog series, “Tuesday From The Trenches” where I interview a new author every week about their path to representation, showing that there is no one “right” way to land and agent and encouraging authors to keep pushing through.
AD: I can't wait to read your "Tuesday From The Trenches" series! Thank you so much for joining me, Kailei and for sharing a bit about yourself and your work! Congrats on all your wonderful accomplishments. We can’t wait to follow along on this next phase of your kidlit journey! Best of luck! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Kailei and her work. Stay tuned for next week where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe below so you don't miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit.
If you are interested in being featured in the Rising Stars in KidLit series, please complete the following Getting to Know You form to be considered. Thank you!
Who Am I?
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories (summer, 2023) and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.